A Truth & A Lie

We spoke mostly in song lyrics and movie quotes. On New Year’s Eve he drunkenly recited the first soliloquy from Hamlet to me, (He was always drunk. He told me “The day I miss work because I’m hungover is the day I’m an alcoholic.” It didn’t occur to me until later that only an alcoholic would need to quantify that.) We sat in the dining room, on the floor under the window and I told him I hated him because he made me feel the way he did. His hair was that shade of brown where you knew he was a redhead as a kid and the skin on his eyelids was so thin that it looked like he was wearing purple eyeliner. He had grown a mustache and goatee and styled them so that he looked like Cervantes. He would rewrite the poem printed in the newspaper each day and make it better. We sat side by side, conspicuously not touching, and would do the crossword puzzle in ink, the only contact was our hands touching anytime one of figured out an answer and took the pen form the other. One time I filled out the answer Dido, meaning the singer and he told me the story of Dido from the Aeneid. We would play Scrabble and I would give us cute names on the scorecard. Hugh and Sylvia. Margot and Ritchie. Hem and Hadley. I’d use my Qs on words like squib to impress him. We talked about the bookstore we would open one day, somewhere in Maine, because he preferred real winters. I wanted to call it Tomes, but he named it The Dog-Eared Page. The staff would be us and a little old man named Henry, who would ride his bike to work and bring his beagle and a thermos full of soup. The top floor would be reserved for the books we wrote. (I secretly included in my fantasy the house across the street we’d live in, complete with the bottles of vodka he would hide in the towels.) For Christmas, I got him a scarf and signed the card “From Henry.”  One day he played me the CD he made of thirteen different versions of Besame Mucho. We had terrible sex, twice, both of us too drunk to enjoy it or put much effort into it. The second time I slept in his bed, tucked into the crack between the bed and the wall, scared of accidentally touching him. In the morning, I couldn’t find my socks and I didn’t have enough money to buy myself coffee on the way home. I had just enough time to take a shower and notice the rash his bed had given me on my legs, before going in to work, where we both pretended nothing had happened because it was better that way.

Black jeans and slim hips and hair that made me think of licorice sticks. I read him my poems and he pretended to understand them, even though I could tell he really didn’t. He would play songs for me, mix tapes on actual cassettes, flipping them over when one side had finished. He taught me how to ride a bike, patient and never giving up until I finally got it, pedaling down the street, thrilled and proud. He was the one who introduced me to Valley Girl, watching it in his darkened living room, both of us under the same blanket, but too nervous to touch. Eventually I put my toes on top of his toes and we were content to sit like that. We would go for walks and I would try to say wise-sounding things about the moon and he would tell me about how when he was older he would live in a city, bigger and brighter than the one we were in. He imagined the apartment he would live in and I would try not to notice that in that imaginary space there was no room for me. He was equally sweet to his dog as he was to his younger sister, always helping them whenever he could. One time we bought Fruit Loops and plastic bowls and spoons and sat in his car and ate cereal while it rained outside around us and I thought that was the most romantic thing two people could ever do. We would talk on the phone, sometimes for hours, but I honestly can’t remember what we would talk about. I would always be surprised, though, to see that two hours had passed, when it felt like barely twenty minutes had gone by. He smelled good and was nice to everyone and I thought he was smarter than me, but years later I realized this wasn’t so. I was just too enamored to think of him as any way other than perfect.

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This One is Different

Duck and I went swimming because the heat was too much and made us both cranky. We bickered and argued like children, even though he was 25 and I was 17. Sometimes I felt like his little sister and sometimes I felt like his mom and sometimes, I think when he let himself forget the difference in our ages, I felt like something else altogether. He swam, while I stubbornly sat on the blanket we had brought, reading and refusing to go in the water with him because I was angry at something he had said, or maybe over nothing, or maybe over everything. I felt sweaty and gross, pine needles sticking to my feet and when he came over and laid down next to me, dripping water on me, I pretended to still be mad and used that as an excuse to go and swim by myself. I felt dumb, though, in the water alone. I splashed around half-heartedly and then floated for a while on my back, watching the sky as the sun started to set, the clouds pink and the trees turning into shadow puppets against them. Eventually I went and laid down on my stomach next to Duck, who sat staring off into space, his cell phone in his hand. They were still new then and I made fun of him for it, but secretly I was impressed, even though it was a reminder of how different our lives really were. I could mostly forget this, forget how much older he was, when I spent entire days at his house, reading his books and listening to his music, while he cooked, scribbling notes to himself, more this, less that, later typing away at his computer, calling me Brat and asking me to pour him more coffee. In that moment, on the bank of the river, it felt different, like something had changed and I felt the years between us. He told me that his agent had called him, that she had sold his book and I remember thinking that I didn’t even know he had an agent, but it made sense, and then I remembered that I was supposed to be happy for him. I pretended to be excited, congratulated him and hugged him. This was what he had been working on, what he had wanted the entire time I had known him, but all I could think of was how it would take him away from me. We were quiet for a bit, lost in our own thoughts, me wanting mostly to go home so I could cry without him seeing. I didn’t want to have to explain why, wasn’t sure I even could and I didn’t want to remind him even more of how young I was compared to him, a man who had written a cookbook that was going to be published. The sun had mostly set when he finally spoke. He didn’t call me Brat this time, instead used my real name, something I don’t think he had done since the day we met. Something thrilled inside of me, shadowed by fear. I was on the cusp of something and I knew I could turn back or move forward, but either way, nothing would be the same. I moved forward. He leaned in and kissed me, slid the straps of my bathing suit down my arms, exposing my breasts. I laid back and felt his weight on me, the firmness of his chest, the tickle of his hair against my ear. A gasp, a sigh, a whispered word. After, we walked home under the star-filled sky, pinky fingers interlocked. My house was dark when I got home, my mother already asleep and I tried to be quiet as I took a shower, washing the blood off my thighs and the river water out of my hair.

Twelve

Eva and I spent the summer writing novels. They were heavily influenced by Beverly Hills, 90210 and the Sweet Valley High books and we wrote them in spiral-bound notebooks and used blue ballpoint pens. In the back, we glued pictures we had cut out of magazines and catalogs of clothes and jewelry our characters would wear. Our novels told the same stories, from different perspectives and we referred to our main characters as thought they were us.

We were at that age where we were too old to play the games we used to when we were growing up. Pretending we were Amish or lived in Victorian times had lost its magic and writing our novels was a way to hold on to the last part of ourselves that imagined things freely and believed anything was possible.

That summer was different shades of blue and yellow, with pops of grass green. We were dog-sitting for my grandparents while they were in California visiting my aunt and uncle and cousins. After dinner, when the sun was just starting to set, I would walk one dog and then the other. I would take them up the road than ran next to Eva’s yard, to where they were building new houses. The road that used to abruptly end in woods was now longer, turned into a cul-de-sac, the woods gone. On either side of the road were piles of shale that I would climb. Eventually these would be smoothed out and turned into yards, but for that summer they were covered in wild plants that grew tall enough for me to wander through and try to get lost. One time I tied a bandana around the stalk of a plant just to see if it would still be there the next day and when it was I felt like those plants and those piles of shale were my domain and belonged to me and no one else.

At night, I would sleep downstairs on the couch, because it was cooler than my bedroom. I would stay up late and watch old TV shows on Nick at Night and read Judy Blume books. I’d sleep in, not bothered by my dad leaving for work, or my mom making toast for the dogs, watching Regis and Kathy Lee. Sometimes my mom and I would play card games. She taught me Rummy 500 and I taught her Spit and we would make each other laugh until we couldn’t breathe. For dinner, my dad would grill chicken or steaks he had marinated in Italian dressing and we would have salads and I would slip carrot slices to the dogs, while sipping cherry kool-aid and chewing on ice cubes. Sometimes after dinner my brother and I would toast marshmallows, but more often than not we would toss different plants from our yard onto the dying embers in the grill and that’s how I discovered I liked the smell of burning sage and roasting garlic, but burning grass smelled almost as bad as burning hair. When it got dark we would catch fireflies, hold them just long enough to see them blink and then let them go.

Rememberies

The first thing I remember is being at my great-grandmother’s house, eating a cream-filled donut and my brother and cousin jumping out from under the bed and scaring me, but I feel like this can’t be right. I would have been too young, there’s no way I could remember. But I do. I remember my mother holding me, stroking m y cheek singing “Ah ah, baby girl” and knowing someday I would be too big for her to hold and sing to and I remember being sad and trying to hold on to the feeling I had then. I remember going to Myrtle Beach and walking in the ocean and fish nibbling on my toes. I remember holding my parents’ hands when a wave crashed over me and how it made the sunlight behind my eyelids turn grey. I remember my brother and I in the backyard with a blanket over our heads, pretending to be a Chinese dragon. I remember crying in church and not being able to tell anyone why, but it was because I knew someday my parents and grandparents were going to die. I remember being small enough to curl up on the armchair and pretend it was a bed small enough for just me. I remember flipping backwards out of my crib because that’s how Jacques Cousteau would fall into the ocean from his boat. I remember one Halloween seeing a witch fly across the moon and my mom telling me it was just a dream I had, but I knew it was real. I remember rolling down the hill in the backyard and getting up and doing it again and again and never getting dizzy. I remember being small enough to stand in the fireplace and not hit my head on the part where it was sealed off. I remember knowing that if I jumped when I yawned I could fly. I remember pulling the paperbacks off the shelves in my parents’ bedroom and loving the neat rows of words that lined the pages, even though I couldn’t read them. I remember the time I almost caught a bird by propping up a box with a stick that I tied a piece of string to. I remember the scene painted on my toy box becoming animated when I pushed on the painted sun, another thing my mom told me that I dreamed, but I knew was real. I remember thinking that when I grew up I was going to look like Mary Anne on Gilligan’s Island. I remember trying to imagine my mom and my aunt as kids, but every time I tried I could only picture them with big heads and tiny bodies and two-dimensional, like they were made of paper. I remember making jellyfish out of the washcloth in the bathtub. I remember driving to Florida for vacation and know that if I stuck my feet out of the car window I could touch the clouds with them and being very upset that no one would let me try.

Culture, Babe

I tricked Peggy into going to the museum by telling her we’d get extra credit, but really it was because Mr. Naveh was friends with the art teacher and I knew if she was there Colter would be there, too.

Here is what I knew about Colter: He was beautiful, he used to live in Florida, he could paint, he took a train across the US by himself one summer, his mother worked at the flower shop on Murray Avenue and he made eye contact with me when we passed in the hall between classes. He wrote a piece for the school lit mag that he submitted anonymously, but I knew it was his.

Here is what I remember about the school lit mag: Amalia had the best line in the whole damn thing and I hated her for it. “And I swear mint chocolate chip ice cream tastes just like crying.”

Here is what I remember from the International exhibit at the museum that year: There were photos of life sized dolls that I liked because they were creepy and beautiful and photos by William Wegman that I thought were funny, but Jessica said, “I could do that myself.” Then, go ahead and do that yourself, Jessica. (She was mad because everyone liked Jamie more than her, so she lied and told everyone that her parents were divorced because Jamie’s parents were divorced, but what she didn’t get was that no one liked her because she lied so much.) There was a weird video piece that just looped the torture scenes from the movie Conspiracy Theory on a sheet hung on the wall. I went three times to see it.

Here is what wasn’t part of the International exhibit at the museum that year, but sometimes I forget and think it was: a photo spread by Richard Avedon that was in the New Yorker that my ceramics teacher Mr. Sobileski gave to me, entitled “In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort.” It showed a skeleton and his lover in designer clothes and I thought it was the most beautiful and brilliant thing.

Beds

The beds were pushed together in the corner on the floor and we shared them with whoever was staying over.

Jason slept at the foot, curled up like a puppy. In the morning, Stephany’s grandfather could hear us in the kitchen and called from the garden, “Stephany, is there a boy in there? I gotta knife!”

Nina slept naked between us. She had a doll’s face on a woman’s body, even though she was younger then both of us. She had a 30-year old black boyfriend who owned an art gallery and she had an abortion when she was 15. This was before that though. This was when she gave me Memoirs of a Beatnik to read and Stephany and I helped her dye her hair magenta.

Josh slept next to the wall, Stephany between us. I think she was worried I would try to steal him from her, even though she stole him from me first. In the morning, she jerked him off and wouldn’t let me go downstairs and get breakfast until he came.

Favian started off between us, until Stephany told him she was tired and he could play with me. He pinned my arms above my head and I could feel his hard dick against my leg. A different night he bit my thigh and Stephany told beautiful, dumb Eric to kiss me, but I wouldn’t let him and Jason left because he was mad, I think because no one was paying attention to him. I walked him to the door and kissed him because I felt bad, but he left anyway.

There was the time when Stephany came back from Italy after a month away and she slept the whole day and I sat in bed next to her smoking, writing in my journal, reading Dubliners. I watched a movie from the 60s and I spent my entire twenties trying to dress like the main character, but never quite pulled it off.

On the days when no one slept over, when it was just the two of us, we would wake up close to noon and go downstairs and smoke weed and eat Lucky Charms and watch soap operas and play card games. We would eventually take turns showering and then head out into the sticky heat that smelled of grease and cigarettes and find our way to the coffee shop where all the punks hung out. At 9 we would go back to her house so I could call my mom and tell her I was in for the night before heading back out and seeing what adventure we could find.

Senses

The paper-flap sound of wings. The taste of dark chocolate and whiskey. A dark drip of blood on the floor. The blue of the sky after the sun has set, but before night fully takes over. The silver smear of the moon reflected in water. The gentle, soft wetness of tongue against tongue. Earthy scented steam rising ghost-like from tea. The scratch, pop and hiss of a record before the song plays. The bitter salt of tears. The white swirl and mist of fog. The velvet softness of flower petals. The crunch and salt of buttered toast. The clack and tap of typewriter keys.

Ramblings

When I was 14 and went with my parents to a nature center to see the wolves. They were wild, but obedient and their handlers promised they posed no threat. They walked among the audience, wandering, sniffing different people, completely avoiding others. Something about this moment feels like that, but I don’t know what or why.

I think about where I would haunt if I died and became a ghost. I think about where I was happiest in my life and I wonder if I would go there or if I would be stuck wherever it was that I died. And would I even care? How much do ghosts even think about where they are?

Late at night, sitting in the kitchen, one light on, just enough to see what I am writing, listening to Dear Prudence at a volume so low that I can barely hear it, so as not to wake my family. The smell of my orange-flavored lip gloss. This was before the time I heard something breathing next to me and became afraid of the dark for several months.

Home alone when Frank worked nights, watching old TV shows, dreaming of being different, of being free, without even acknowledging that I felt trapped. Writing out alphabets and reading the words out loud like a spell. Repeating over and over “I am not afraid of this blank page.” Before I heard the Shelley heart story. Before I fell off my chair. Before Scrabble and crossword puzzles and Edward Gorey’s set for the Dracula ballet.

Reading cookbooks in the bathtub as the water cooled around me, adding more hot until I was sweaty. The first time I read about kimberlite ejecta, sitting on the radiator in the kitchen, burning my ass, years after I had heard something breathing next to me, long after I stopped being afraid of the dark.

Hiding in the corner of my room, next to the attic door, writing out the names of all the people I had met that summer. Jeff, Anthony, Tanya, Lurch, BobDawg, Skippy, Hammer, Ryan Pasquale, Jo Do, Weston, Waldo Greg. Reading poems out of a hundred-year old book, memorizing stanzas, thinking it made me smart. “The beasts that roam over the plain, my form with indifference see, they are so unacquainted with man, their tameness is shocking to me.”  “Thus the Seer with vision clear, sees forms appear and disappear, in the perpetual realm of strange, mysterious change. From birth to death, from death to birth, from earth to heaven, from heaven to earth, til glimpses more sublime of things unseen before, unto his wondering eye reveals the Universe as an immeasurable wheel, turning forever more in the rapid and rushing river of Time.”

Fuck a Boy

I started this because of a boy, but fuck a boy.

Fuck all the boys.

Not in a misandrist way, but…

I don’t know why I am the way that I am. I have always been this way and I have spent my life trying to navigate the world being like this.

When I was a kid I had serious separation anxiety. I remember when I was still too young for school, being home with just my mom. She went to get the mail, literally taking one step onto the front porch. She didn’t leave the property, she barely left the house, but she was out of my sight and I remember the panic that set in. I was all alone.

I used to hate going to the mall because it was big and there were so many people and I was afraid I’d get separated from my family and be lost forever.

One time we went to visit a relative in the hospital. She had just had a baby, so we were going to see them and I guess my nervousness was obvious because my mom tried to console me. “This is a good thing. It’s a baby. No one is sick. It’s not scary.” I didn’t care about that. The hospital was massive, with twisty hallways and so many different floors and it was in an area of town I wasn’t familiar with. If I got lost there was no way I’d be able to find my way home.

Eventually I taught myself not to be scared, not to worry about being lost and alone. It didn’t always work. When I was a teenager a friend and I were out shopping and she needed to pee so we went to the restroom. She was in the stall and I was standing by the sinks, waiting for her and I suddenly worried that somehow she had slipped out without me realizing it, so I asked her if she had a brush, knowing that she didn’t, but needing the reassurance of hearing her voice.

I went out to dinner with my first boyfriend. We ate a restaurant that didn’t accept credit cards, so he had to drive home to get cash, while I sat there alone and waited for him to come back. My heart pounded audibly, certain he had left me there and wasn’t coming back.

There is no reason for any of this. It would be easy to pin it on my parents’ divorce, my dad literally leaving the family, coming back only to leave again a few months later, until eventually he stayed away. Except this started before that. I was born this way and I don’t know why.

It would also be easy to define it as a fear of being alone, but it’s not that either. I enjoy being alone. Sometimes (most times?) I prefer it. If it were that it would be easy to get over. A little immersion therapy, going out by myself or staying home by myself, easing into it becoming the norm and thus comfortable.

I think this is born more out of my belief that I am incapable of taking care of myself. Left alone I will slowly waste away, or find myself in a situation where I am unable to defend myself. It comes from a lack of belief in my abilities to exist in this world on my own.

The result of this is that I cling to people. I clutch to them and hold on tight, waiting for the inevitable abandonment. I’ve learned to tamp it down. To not call or text when I want to, to skew the other way and keep people at a distance.

Even so, I always have my foundation people. The ones that I know will be there for me. The ones that hold me up, so that I can navigate this world, not alone. Sometimes these people are not good for me. I have stayed in relationships that should have ended years before, been friends with people who’ve only cared about me as long as I fed into their narcissism. I have put up with crap because the alternative has been more than I thought that could bear. Because I honestly believed that without them I would be incapable of existing.

And yet, when these people do leave my life, when I finally find the strength to walk away, as I always do, I find myself empowered instead of diminished. I find that I am more capable, more empowered than when they were there. I am the complete opposite of what I thought I would be without them. I don’t know how many times I need to learn this lesson before it sticks.

So, fuck a boy. Fuck all the boys I have attached myself to, stitched myself onto so tightly that separating from them felt like a physical pain. Fuck all the girls who have thought of me as lesser. Who worked my insecurities to build themselves up. Fuck the people that I have defined myself by. It’s time for me to start navigating this world on my own and proving that I am more than capable to do so.

An Email to E

The reason for this, the start of it all:

A writing exercise, as inspired by you in two ways. 1 – you wanting to read what I write and me being stingy with it and 2 – your suggestion of music reviews and an example of why I can’t write them, it is all feelings and emotions and no one wants that mixed in with their critique.

A better description of what appeals to me in those two Nick Cave songs –

I Need You – I heard this album the first time in the documentary, so sometimes it is hard to separate the songs from that experience, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I don’t think. When this song started in the film, I remember being unimpressed and almost hated it. Something in the way he says supermarket (also, supermarket is so unpoetic a word, it felt out of place) and it sounded almost droning. But there is something in that droning. It’s almost relentless and as the song goes on, you can hear the ache in his voice, the need. And need can be relentless and it all fits together and suddenly the song was raw and beautiful and brilliant. And at the end, when he sings “Just breathe” it’s like he’s saying that to himself. Yearning for someone can be all consuming and at times you have to remind yourself to breathe. I have never needed or wanted or yearned for anyone in that way, although I’ve always wanted to. I imagine it’s actually terrible, but from the outside it looks beautiful.

Distant Sky – This one is harder to explain. Of course it is the two contrasting vocals. But beyond that, it invokes my synesthesia. And memories that have nothing to do with the song itself, something that I’m not sure I can accurately convey to anyone who wasn’t me as a teenager. This song is green and gold weaving together. It is a winter day, without snow, in a part of the city that is old buildings and academia and trees, bare silhouettes against the white sky. It is gray stone and puffs of breath and cigarette smoke. It is reading Dubliners and scratching out bad poetry. It is possibilities and the whole fucking world open before me. It’s funny to me that the song itself is green and gold, but the memories are black and white in my head.

And the reply via text:

-Elise
-I just read your email
-you should restart your blog
-I’m not joking
-I loved the description
-it’s not a critique ok
-but it’s words and images that come to you because of the music
-so personal sharing
-meaning blog
-put them out there
-even if no one reads them
-save them

And then I started a blog.